Sunday, 21 July 2013

Welsh Food Festival Roundup - guest post

The festival season is upon us: wellies are appropriately muddy, tents are suitably smelly, and our stomachs are fed up of the same old festival food. So why not treat your stomach to something with a little more substance than the standard burger from a van, and head to a one of the many food festivals that are happening across Wales this summer? Spectacular stalls and live displays will showcase some of the best Welsh produce and tantalising recipes of the moment, from the traditional to the unusual, treat your taste buds at a food festival.

26th – 28th July 
One of the best things about the Big Cheese is that it’s totally free of charge to attend; another has to be that the festival is dedicated to one of the greatest food stuffs known to man- glorious cheese! Held in the grounds of Caerphilly Castle, the festival highlights include live re-enactments, a fun fair, and live music and entertainment during the days and into the nights. More than 50 stallholders will gather to show off the best of Welsh local produce from chocolates to chutneys.

The Big Cheese Festival, Caerphilly
The Big Cheese Festival, Caerphilly
7th – 8th September
This is another free festival held in a unique open air setting at the National History Museum in Cardiff. The focus is on fine food here, with over 80 stall holders all set within the museums historic re-constructed buildings, selling food from the traditional to the exotic, with bread and cakes baked in the museums bake house and meat and sausages from animals reared in museum grounds. 

21st – 22nd September 
This is a big one on the South Wales foodie calendar, called ‘Glastonbury of the food festivals’ by the Observer, you’ll find a great atmosphere, plenty of stallholders across five different venues to browse, taste, and try the very best in local food and drink. As well as plenty to eat, there’s a wide selection of things to see and do, making this festival a perfect day out on a family holiday. There are live demonstrations and cookery workshops for kids plus the fantastic Party at the Castle on the Saturday night featuring an amazing fireworks display. 

This was a guest post by Elizabeth Bathurst a travel writer on behalf of Holiday Cottages. Elizabeth is heading up to the Royal Welsh show soon where you will find her exploring the Food Hall and the Food and Drink Pavilion.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Pray for Spanish Eyes - Ultracomida Restaurant Review

Ask anyone where to eat in West Wales and invariably Ultracomida (translation: ultra food) gets a well deserved mention, with 2 restaurants in Narbeth and Aberystwyth they have an enviable reputation for importing and serving fantastic Spanish produce. A recent stay at remote Pwll Pendre cottage on the glorious Hafod Estate involved no fewer than 2 trips to Aber which naturally meant 2 trips to Ultracomida.

The impressive cheese counter at Ultracomida, Aberystwyth
Ultracomida, Aberystwyth - a destination for cheese lovers!
photo courtesy of Ultracomida
In the front is the most amazing deli. On the counter a daunting range of Spanish and Welsh cheeses is made easier to navigate by knowledgeable and chatty staff. A range of dried goods including Bomba rice, slabs of membrillo, paprica, and amazing Spanish drinking chocolate (do try it) is opposite, while squished into every spare shelf are the wines, sherries and beers. I was recommended La Socarrada, a small batch ale made with honey and rosemary which I can confirm was delicious, although at close on £9 a bottle is probably too spendy to be anything other than a treat.

La Socarrada, from Ultracomida
La Socarrada, beautiful ale, best enjoyed with food
The dining room involves sociable and lively communal tables and a bar which wraps around the edges.   Anyone who has eschewed the tourist traps to eat with the locals in many areas of Spain will recognise this, and it is hugely pleasing that the service, both in the restaurant and deli, continues with this sense of camaraderie. Every single person we speak to is friendly, efficient and helpful.

The menu is a mix of tapas and sandwiches, and (importantly for a student town) is very affordable. Typical tapa of albondigas, tortilla and patatas bravas bump along happily with filled breads and most plates are around the £6 mark.
Bread and Olives at Ultracomida
The best olives I have had in a while, also available with cornichons in the deli
The obligatory bread and olives featured some of the best olives I have had in a while, and a rustic pan com tomate was heavy with chopped garlic.

Pan con tomate at Ultracomida
Pan con tomate with a lo-o--ot of garlic
A chicken, pork and chorizo paella, allegedly the tapa sized portion, came with a deliciously pungent aioli and punctuated with bits of crunchy rice or 'socarrat'.
Paella at Ultracomida Aberystwyth
The tapa sized Paella
A beetroot, goats cheese and watercress salad delivered the only flaw of our lunch, with a beautiful but slightly stingy portion of cheese that didn't last through the whole of the beetroot.

Beetroot, balsamic, goats cheese and watercress salad, Ultracomida
Beetroot, balsamic, goats cheese and watercress salad
 A panini of chicken and chorizo slathered in Chimichurri sauce was a big hit; rich, smoky and satisfying.

Chicken, chorizo chimichurri panini at Ultracomida
The chimichurri sauce MADE this panini
 If I have any complaint, it is that they weren't around when I was a student in the town myself!
Pwll Pendre, Hafod Estate
Pwll Pendre, Hafod Estate, very beautiful, just us and the sheep!
Waterfalls on the Hafod Estate

River, Hafod Estate

31 Pier Street, Aberystwyth, Dyfed SY23 2LN
01970 630 686

Twitter: @Ultracomida

Ultracomida on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Million Dollar Bill - Bill's Restaurant Cardiff, review

Bill's Restaurant, Cardiff
Bill's Restaurant, Cardiff
We all love Cardiff's arcades right? Of course we do, they are a lovely shopping experience, and I make a point of spending my cash in the various shops and cafes there as often as possible. Like many of you, I frequently choose the extra walk to make purchases at the independents there, favouring it over the glass and steel temple-to-chain-shopping that is St David's 2.

A couple of weeks ago I finally caved in the face of needing a pre-theatre option in town, and booked a table at Bill's at the top of Wyndham Arcade. I'm sure we all know the story by know, but here it is again. Bill Collison's store was originally an independent grocer/deli/cafe in East Sussex and was very successful, enjoying a healthy reputation for tasty, simple food and overflowing with good produce. Enter stage left, Richard Caring (of the Ivy, J Sheeky et al) who buys a big chunk of the company, and Bill's shifts a gear, aggressively expanding first into London and then across the rest of the country.

Dining room, Bill's Place, Cardiff
Shabby chic
There is no mistaking the hand of a London brand agency as you walk into the restaurant, the whole shabby chic look and feel is too 'on purpose' for my taste. Bunches of dried chillies, industrial lighting and signs painted to look like chalkboards festoon the walls and ceilings.

Crispy lemon squid, Bill's restaurant, Cardiff
Crispy lemon squid
As for the food it is all ok, but nothing more than that. Crispy lemon squid with chipotle, garlic aioli ( thanks for clarifying Bill) and lemon (5.95) is only just this side of burned unlike the same starter delivered to the table next to us which looked anaemic. If there was any chipotle in there I couldn't taste it.

Bill's prawn and avocado cocktail with spicy tomato salsa and cocktail sauce garnished with deep fried tiger prawn, ciabatta crisps and lemon (£5.95) was decent but unremarkable.

Prawn cocktail, Bills Restaurant, Cardiff
Prawn cocktail
The mains were standard fare too. Bill’s hamburger served in a sesame seed bun with red onion, tomato, lettuce, horseradish mayonnaise and skinny fries (£9.95) plus Monterey Jack Cheese (£1.20) was disappointingly dry because of a well done patty and a substantial bun.

Bill's hamburger, Bill's Restaurant, Cardiff
Bill's hamburger
Bill's Burger, Bill's Restaurant Cardff
Well done burger
The best of the night was definitely the Home-made cod fish finger sandwich with tartare sauce, rocket and ketchup on toasted white bread served with skinny fries (£8.50). The fish was moist, tasty and nicely cooked and a huge portion for such a bargainous price.

Bill's Homemade Cod Fish Finger Sandwich
The best of the night, Bill's Homemade Cod Fish Finger Sandwich
Bill's success is great for Bill who remains a director of the company but is no longer hands on and it shows. If his ethos is to 'cook with the seasons' there is little evidence of it here, and just as a seasonal menu has been replaced with chain pub food, so the groceries have been replaced with eponymously branded cross-selling opportunities. Once you have eaten Bill's breakfasts, burgers, and butties you can now fill your boots with Bill's beer, balsamic and biscuits.

I see why it is popular, I really do and I am trying not to be a food snob, but considering the chain's history, and the juxtaposition against some of Cardiff's finest independents, the whole experience left me feeling full but also a little empty.

Bill's Restaurant
27-39 Wyndham Arcade, Mill Lane, Cardiff CF10 1FH
02920 231524


Bill's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, 27 May 2013

Sugar and Spice - Purple Poppadom, Cardiff Review

Purple Poppadom, located in the Canton area of Cardiff stands distinctly apart from other Indian restaurants in the area, describing itself as serving 'nouvelle Indian cuisine', which should give you a good idea of what to expect. Hidden away unassumingly above a parade of shops on Cowbridge Road East, the restaurant is housed in a dining room that isn't afraid to take a purple theme and run with it!

Pleased by the choices on a thoughtful drinks menu, which included a very good Snowdonia pale ale and a broad wine selection, these were well accompanied by poppadoms and interesting chutneys (beetroot, mint and lemon) to nibble.

Snowdonia Pale Ale from Purple Moose brewery
Snowdonia Pale Ale from Purple Moose brewery
Indian food is notoriously challenging to present beautifully. Fundamentally meat/vegetables in sauce doesn't lend itself well to twiddly fine dining presentation so you get the feeling that creativity has been let loose on the starters. Most options come in threes with cutesy descriptions (Lamb in a Thrice anyone?). Multiple components, processes and expensive ingredients abound all designed to show the diner that the team can deliver more than your standard curry house.

The Streets of Mumbai at Purple Poppadom Cardiff Indian Restaurant
The Streets of Mumbai
'The Streets of Mumbai' £5.95 (deep breath) Aloo Tikki – potato cake served on a bed of spiced chickpeas, Bombay Chat – pop-in-the mouth semolina pastry snack filled with yoghurt and homemade chutney, topped with gram flour vermicelli, Tangy puffed rice salad with tamarind chutney.

This for me was a case of style over substance. The plate looked absolutely stunning but was lacking in terms of texture. The Aloo Tikki could have been amazing but was drenched in yoghurt, making it sloppy. This then wasn't enough contrast against the Bombay Chat which was filled with the same yoghurt. The puffed rice tower was tasty but the texture of stale rice crispies didn't quite do it for me.

A trio of 'Chicken Connoisseur' £5.95 fared much better. Beautifully moist chicken and interesting contrasting, complimentary flavours, the fun was in deciding on a favourite.

Chicken Connoiseur at Purple Poppadom Cardiff Indian Restaurant
Chicken Connoisseur
The mains were both fantastic, both heavy with spice and lip tingling chilli and clearly a cut above our usual takeaway fare.

The Murgh Chatpata Kolaphur £10.95 boneless chicken with a thick tangy onion, tomato, fenugreek leaves and lemon juice, was very satisfying mopped up with an excellent saffron pilau rice, £3.95 although the chicken was disappointingly a little overcooked.
Murgh Chatpata Kolaphur at The Purple Poppadom Cardiff
Murgh Chatpata Kolaphur 
Saffron Pilau Rice
Saffron Pilau Rice
A Kashmiri Roganjosh £11.95 had the kind of heat that sneaks up on you and makes your nose run, the smooth, rich sauce punctuated with soft, tender chunks of slow cooked lamb. Utterly delicious.
Kashmiri Roganjosh Purple Poppadom Cardiff restaurant
Kashmiri Roganjosh
Tandoori Roti
Tandoori Roti
Faultless? No, there were elements that didn't quite work for me, but this is definitely Indian food elevated, and some very skilled and creative cooking indeed.

Purple Poppadom
185a Cowbridge Road East, Canton, Cardiff
029 2022 0026

Twitter: @purple_poppadom 

Purple Poppadom on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Trip report: Fuerteventura food

Betancuria Fuerteventura
We have been desperate for some sun during a disappointingly damp spring, and so we headed south in search of warmth and good food in Fuerteventura. 

What we found was a surprisingly gorgeous island, with small heavily developed pockets of tourist areas punctuating a striking, wild landscape. With a car it was easily possible to leave the British pubs and greasy spoons behind and discover some stunning and largely deserted beaches and harbours villages.
El Cotillo Fuerteventura
El Cotillo, very quiet, wild and remote
The best food on the island is as unsophisticated as the environment. Every meal in Fuerteventura starts with bread and bowls of alioli and mojo sauce. This sauce, ubiquitous in the Canaries, is made with garlic, salt and oil and then chillies and paprika for the red variety or coriander and cumin for the green.

Most meals are served with papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes) boiled in their skins, in heavily salted water and then finished off in the oven until the skin wrinkles. These are eaten drizzled with mojo sauce.
Bread, alioli and mojo sauce
Bread, alioli and mojo sauce. A great way to start
The best eating on the island, as you might expect, is simple, grilled seafood, eaten as close to the ocean as possible.

South of Calete de Fuste is Los Caracolitos, a beautiful fish restaurant in the tiny harbour village of Salinas del Carmen, special mentions go to the garlic mussels, billed as a starter but made for a good lunch, and a simply fried dover sole.

In Calete de Fuste itself is the no frills restaurant La Frasquita. There are no menus. Here the waiter brings out a plate displaying the catch for the day and on Wednesday there is all you can eat Paella for €10.

In the North is the harbour town of El Cotillo, which, despite being a short 15 minute drive from the tourist area of Corallejo, feels wild and remote but also has a great selection of restaurants. We ate at La Vaca Azul (The Blue Cow) and tried the local parrot fish, tasty but full of tiny bones.

Garlic mussels at Los Caracolitos Salinas del Carmen
Garlic mussels at Los Caracolitos  - the best fish restaurant in the area
dover sole with papas arrugadas Los Carracolitos Salinas
The dover sole with inevitable papas arrugadas
Parrot fish at La Vaca Azul El Cotillo
Parrot fish at La Vaca Azul - a challenge to pick all the bones out
Spanish tapas is also easily found. In Calete de Fuste, far away from the beach is Bar Tapas, a simple bar, busy with local workers during the day who come for the menu del dia (starter, main, desert, drink and coffee for €8) and visitors who come for the tapas.
Menu del dia rice chicken and rabbit Bar Tapas Caleta de Fuste
Rice, chicken and rabbit. A starter at Bar Tapas menu del dia and one of the
best things I ate all week.
The tapas combinados at Bar Tapas Caleta de Fuste
The tapas combinados at Bar Tapas. Potato and chickpea stew, chicken wings,
sausage and peppered steak
Taps selection at Bar Tapas Calete de Fuste
A tapas selection of Argentinian criollo sausage,
papas arrugadas and chicken croquettas
Desserts not hugely inspiring, even in the best restaurants!
Ron miel Fuerteventura
Ron Meil or honey rum, a pleasant liquer

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